Ghost Ship isn’t anywhere near complete – I don’t even think it’s playable – but as I put a draft together for some friends to look over I thought I might as well put it up here for everyone else to check out. If you’re interested, here’s the main book:
And here’s the Google Drive folder with character sheets and so on:
Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.
– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
One of the big barriers to human space travel is just how long its astronomical distances take to travel. All but the most die-hard explorer is likely to blanch at spending years or even decades in a tiny tin can barely protected from the void of space.
As a Ghost, many of the standard issues of long-term travel don’t apply: you don’t need food or water, cosmic radiation can’t do anything to a properly shielded circuit, and it’d take a truly catastrophic level of damage to the ship to stop you functioning. Still, it’s not completely plain sailing – that time takes its toll, as you have to cope with mind-numbing tedium and the solar system changing outside of your control.
In Ghost Ship, you won’t be tracking the passing of time with fastidious bookkeeping. All we care about is the magnitude of time passing, tracked as sweeps. A 3 sweep journey is a matter of days, Earth to Luna for example. 7 sweeps will take you from Earth to Mars over a length of months, 9 sweeps will cover the years it takes you to travel between the planets of the inner system and Jupiter, and journeys past Saturn or even to the fringes of the Solar system take even more.1
As it’s only the order of magnitude of time we’re concerned with, calculating the duration of a trip is very simple: just draw a line between your start and end point on the system map shown below and take the highest number you pass through.
The number of Sweeps gives you how long the trip will take, but what matters is how you spend it. To see what opportunities the trip provides, you:
Take a number of d6s equal to the number of sweeps.
Group them according to the value on the dice (all 1s, all 4s, etc.). These are your action sets.
Group all dice that show unique values – this is your scrap set.
Example: you’re travelling from Mars to Mercury (7 sweeps), so you roll 7 d6s and get 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6. This gives you two action sets (two 2s and two 5s) and a scrap set of three dice.
Your sets guide the events of your trip:
Each of your action sets buys you a downtime action, with the action’s effectiveness determined by the set’s size. With these actions you can:
Research your destination.
Talk to your portside friends and contacts.
Bond with your crewmates.
Repair the ship and modify your equipment.
Hack into your own AI substrate to unlock new capabilities.
The group’s scrap sets, on the other hand, bring misfortune: either someone chooses to take a scrap set’s size in dice in Quiet stress 2 or the set is passed to the GM. They can spend these sets to:
Cause malfunctions in the ship.
Create complications at your destination.
Give you bad news from back home.
Reveal unexpected threats – meteorite showers, solar flares, or even assault from unexpected forces.
The group goes around the table taking it in turns to activate an action set and declare an action until all action sets have been used. They must also activate their scrap sets, however, and there’s strategy in pacing this. Group them all together and they’ll compound their effects, so you want to make sure you keep Actions in reserve to deal with problems before they escalate. Working against that is the ability of Scrap Sets to make downtime actions harder, so if you really need to succeed at something you should try to do it before any crises happen.
Shifting your chances
Memories and Aptitudes also play a part, just as they do in more immediate time scales.
A high Acuity helps you effectively multitask. If your number of sets is less than your Acuity, you change one scrap die to match your smallest set. If you have no sets, change it to match one of your other dice.3
A high Focus lets you really concentrate on your chosen tasks. If your largest set is no larger than your Focus, change one of your scrap dice to be a part of it.
Once you have your sets, a relevant Memory lets you do one of two things: combine two sets together into one giant set, or split a set containing 4 or more dice in half. Either way, if you stretched the memory outside its subject or context4 take Glitches equal to the size of the larger set.
Lastly, if a Memory gives you a relevant Skill, treat the set you’re using for that action as if it were one dice larger.
Time isn’t only passing for you; as you reach your destination, you’ll find all sorts of changes have taken place in the system’s different settlements. More on that next time.
Astronomy and/or Kerbal nerds may spot I’ve based these on Hohmann Transfer times – the simplest and most fuel-efficient way to travel between two bodies. Hasty pilots can exploit slingshots or burn more fuel to get places faster, while thrifty pilots can save fuel at the cost of adding sweeps to the time by exploiting the Interplanetary Transport Network.↩
As the tedium of space travel puts strain on your mental health ↩
This means you always have at least one set no matter what you roll unless your Acuity has been dropped to 0. ↩